Thursday, June 3, 2010
I am a journalist so I understand better than many people how newspaper stories are sourced, written and put out to the population.
That is why it is important to explain something about yesterday's feature that appeared on the BBC website.
The star of the BBC story is, apparently, Justin Walley. The truth though is, of course, that I am just a small part in this project:
It is Bjorn heidenstrom that has dedicated more than a year away from his family. He dreamt up the idea of 'the shirt' and it is Bjorn that spent 9 months alone on the road in Europe and Africa before I joined him.
But this project is much more still than Bjorn and the guy who hitchbiked with him for the last leg from Kenya to South Africa.
'The Shirt 2010' would never have happened if Bjorn's girlfriend and children had not agreed to sacrifise one year away from the man they love. 600 shirts would not have already been collected had it not been for the continued support of vital team members like Ingar in Norway, Steve Hall and David Bright in England and the many thousands who have helped along the way with beds, food and shirts such as the good people of Glossop, Lusaka and Riga.
Without Steve their might easily be 200 less shirts; without David many many shirts would never have been collected; without Ingar 600 shirts would never have left Norway and now stand proudly sewn together in Johannesburg.
This project has been financed by individuals, not by sponsors. Tens of thousands of emails have been sent to football clubs, associations, fan groups, TV companies and newspapers. At least 90 percent of these never even received a reply. When the public reads the BBC story they do not know about the half a dozen people sat by their laptops at 3am on a February morning writing blogs and begging letters in the desperate hope that their actions would eventually lead to great success.
I started this blog by talking about understanding how the media works. The BBC kindly approached me because they are interested in the 'English angle' to the story. They and other British media have taken the 'English angle' of 'The Shirt 2010' because that is what the majority of their readers are interested in, and it is the thing that, ultimately, helps them sell papers or gain readers.
The bigger picture is that Justin Walley is one small cog in this project; one member of a team.
And, yes, we are trying to create the world's biggest football shirt - but we are doing this so that the world's media tells our story and, as a result, enable us to create increased awareness of the plight of the world's refugees.
Thanks to the BBC for their brilliant support. You can read the story here
Jaime Morris has kindly dedicated an album to 'the Shirt 2010 project'. It is now available on itunes for download with 50% of the money from each track going directly to the project.
Please download a copy of 'More Than A Game' today.
Every CD or track sold helps us to provide school books, water pumps, goats etc. to projects such as the Mombasa Street Boys and the Chogo Refugee Camp. We can put this money directly into these projects so even one CD makes a real difference.
You can download the album by visiting the itunes site. Just click here to be redirected.
Friday, April 23
Chogo Refugee Resettlement Camp, Tanzania
When we think of venturing abroad to exotic lands we often spend too much time worrying about the possible perils that might await us there: spiders, snakes, disease, war etc.
It is sensible to be cautious but sometimes we forget the very real threats in our every day lives such as driving to work in the morning or sending ourselves to an early grave by smoking too many cigarettes.
I was stood in the toilet at 7am on friday morning admiring the wonderful sunrise over the Chogo Resettlement Camp when suddenly I felt an acute pain in my inside leg. I would liken it to being given an injection by a nervous nurse. There quickly followed a second surge of pain and I knew something was amiss.
Out in the courtyard I quickly pulled off my trousers and asked Bjorn if he could see anything that might have caused my pain.
I watched Bjorn step back and his face screw up, "It's a scorpion mate"
"You're joking aren't you?"
"No, it really is. I am sorry. You've been bitten by a scorpion."
A million thoughts race around my head ranging from 'am I dreaming this?' to 'Is the scorpion of the deadly variety and might I die from this wound?'
I lie on the bed in a vertical position and a T-shirt is tied around my leg above my knee to limit the spread of the scorpion's venom.
Bjorn goes off in search of the local doctor but tells me there are 'no deadly scorpions in Tanzania'. His words settle me. Slightly. But as I lie there alone in the room I conclude that Bjorn probably doesn't know anything about scorpions and maybe, just maybe, I might die from this.
It is an absurd idea that this might be the cause of my demise but as I feel the venom spread across my leg I realise that it really might be a possibility.
Bjorn phones his Norwegian Army friend, Ingar, who starts searching his resources for the deadly-or-not status of the scorpion. He reckons I am safe. Jimmy, our guide in Chogo, arrives with pain killers and anti-allergy medicine. The scorpions in Chogo are not deadly, he assures me.
He's just told me I have won the lottery. I don't need to explain the relief.
The UNHCR and REDESO agree to provide us with a vehicle for the day to transport us to Dar es Salaam as clearly cycling is something I won't be doing for a couple of days.
The venom spreads until I can hardly feel a thing in most of my right leg. We drive to Dar es Salaam, I guess 300-400 kilometres away. Scorpion poison makes you feel very tired. I am in and out of sleep for most of the journey south-east.
In Dar es Salaam the people at REDESO can't do enough to help us. They help us find a place to sleep, start contacting the local press and football clubs and say some very kind words about what Bjorn and I are trying to achieve.
You shouldn't mix alcohol with medicine, but one cold beer by the roadside watching the citizens of Dar es Salaam go about their business is a perfect way to finish the day and to reflect upon how happy I feel to be alive.
Thursday, April 22
Chogo Refugee resettlement Camp, Tanzania
Due to a little bit too much beer (at least I hope that is his excuse) Bjorn was cuddling up closer to me in bed than I would have liked and clearly was thinking I might be his Marianne :) Consequently, I elected to spend the rest of the night trying to sleep on the floor.
We travel up to the Chogo Refugee Settlement, less than 100 kilometres from Tanga. The camp is run by REDESO (The Relief to Development Society).
The vision of REDESO is as follows:
"A community where vulnerable people have access to equal opportunities and empowerment".
There are around 2,800 resettled Somalis living at the Chogo Camp. The idea is that they become self sufficient and naturalized as Tanzanian citizens.
Both these ideas seem appropriate to me. Chogo is a beautiful place. It is hilly, full of lush vegitation and enjoys the occasional cooling breeze.
The camp's residents, young and old, are very friendly. We meet the camp's Elders. They want to be totally self-sufficient, but first they need a little more help from people like you and me. They need school books for the kids; they need electricity and running water.
Much has already been achieved at Chogo from when it was originally nothing more than one huge UNHCR tent. Now thousands live happily in their own houses, go to their mosque, cook on coal-heated stoves and, of course, play football.
But these people have shown that if they are given the tools to become self-sufficient, they can do just that.
It would be nice to think that somebody who reads this might help to put those books into the Chogo classrooms and the waterpumps into the orange Chogo soil.
For more details:
Saturday, April 17
In the morning we visited a local school where some of the former street boys are now studying. One boy, for example, is 14 but is in a class with 11-year-olds. He feels foolish, but he isn't. He is a good lad on the road to full rehabilitation from the street.
After the school it is time to find myself a bike. After 3 hours of fun and games I purchase my bicycle for the trip. He is called Mr. Mombasa. He cost 5500 Kenyan Schillings (about 45 pounds). He was made in China and needs to last me to South Africa.
Later some of the Dutch girls working in Mombasa took us to the Dickson Children's orphanage where they work. It was supposed to be Maartje's last day in Kenya but a certain volcano in Iceland meant that she couldn't get home.
We met around half a dozen young Dutch girls who are volunteering in Mombasa. Their lives are not easy. They are doing a lot of good and I would call them angels.
The 60,000 orphans aged 0-18 in the city of Mombasa need their help and ours.
Wednesday, April 14
Did my first cycle of the trip through Nairobi city centre as I needed to take Bjorn's bike down to the central train station 4 hours ahead of our train to Mombasa. Took a Matatsu back to the hostel and then a car to Wilson Airport where fortunately Bjorn's UN plane landed on time after spending a day at the Dadaab Refugee Camp on the Somali border.
After crawling through the notorious Nairobi rush hour traffic we managed to make it in time for our train to Mombasa.
Used planes, trains, cars, vans, minibuses and a bike to get through the day. Settled down to dinner on the overnight train where Bjorn told me about conditions in the refugee camp. Those that live there will probably never go home. There are 270,000 of them - 98% Somali. They can escape to the refugee camp, risk a boat to Yemen or, as IDPs (Internally displaced persons) take their gamble in the anarchy of Somalia.